Where people and purpose mean business

Blick Rothenberg is an award-winning tax, audit and advisory firm that prides itself on putting people first. Ruth Holmes caught up with Mark Abbs, Partner and Head of Global Mobility, to find out how Blick Rothenberg aligns people, purpose and profitability to such effect.

Success in business and talent award as a group od diverse people reaching for a gold star concept in a 3D illustration style.
Winner of this year’s Think Global People Relocate Award for Excellence in Talent Development, Deployment and Diversity, and making the Best Leadership, Research, Thought Leadership or Book shortlist, Blick Rothenberg is having a stellar 2022.
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Revenues and profitability in its Global Mobility team have typically been up 30-40% and, despite the current environment, organic growth is currently +15-20%. From a people perspective, the 40-strong Global Mobility team, which offers bespoke expatriate tax and advisory services to a wide range of companies and sectors from life sciences to fintech, has the highest retention rate across the company, which itself has higher-than-average retention in these talent-tight times.Describing why, Mark Abbs, Partner and Head of Global Mobility, says, “We are very much a relationship-based advisory firm. We know that great relationships yield the best outcomes. We therefore put out the red carpet and try to treat everyone really well.”

Doing the right thing

Looking after people well has been a key theme running throughout the company’s 80-year history. Today, Blick Rothenberg recognises its uniquely diverse workforce. It is committed to creating a workplace founded on inclusion that perpetually unlocks the talent within its workforce in a nurturing culture where people and teams can flourish, and client focus is key.A fifth of the company speaks a second language and 32 languages are spoken in total. The Global Mobility team for instance is made up of people from lots of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. From a client perspective, this means the team can provide advice to clients in multiple languages and try to properly understand cultural diversity.“The day I arrived for an interview, it was warm,” recalls Mark. “I remember sitting in the client reception in this plush area like a boutique hotel lobby, with designer chairs and thick carpets. An individual who worked in reception (and who is still here now), brought over a water bottle and a glass on a tray and made me start to feel really welcome. That’s 11 years ago and I still remember that fondly.“I also remember talking to who would go on to be an early Global Mobility client of the firm. We had a good meeting and when I saw him next, one of the first things he said was, ‘Mark, I just want to say when I left you after our meeting, I stood on the porch looking out onto Baker Street. It was raining and I was thinking could I run to the tube, or should I get a taxi? Then I felt this tap on my shoulder and I was asked if I’d like an umbrella and this person just handed me one.’“He remembered this. It made such an impression. What’s interesting is that person had not been asked or trained to do all that. It just seemed like the right thing to do.”

People first

Such trust and authenticity are vital currency as customers and employees become more conscious of social, ethical and environmental concerns. Given the company’s culture, it was therefore a natural step for Blick Rothenberg’s leadership team to define its purpose in relation to its people.“We’ve been going through a lot of strategic conversations – I’m part of the Blick Rothenberg leadership team – and what’s interesting is that we always put people up there first together with doing the right thing. If you put your people first, hopefully they become more engaged and the quality of the support they give to their clients is immense. So, I’m proud that in our ‘One Company, One People’ strategy, we’ve got our people first. I’m convinced our clients will then get a much better and more genuine service. We think it’s really important to do it this way around.”Creating psychologically safe workplaces – the ability to learn from each other at every level of the organisation, share ideas and concerns, take responsibility for and grow from mistakes if they happen – is an important aspect of putting people first, supporting wellbeing and diversity of thought, and doing the right thing.Over the years, Blick Rothenberg has tried to build an inclusive culture where people can do their best work, be authentic, collaborative and respectful. Regular staff surveys measure the success of this approach and engagement tends to be consistently high in Global Mobility.

Authenticity and progress

This culture is fully supported daily by the board, CEO Nimesh Shah, and Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Angela Cooke, as they try to help everyone drive positive behaviours throughout the organisation. This focus includes seeking to make further progress by tracking gender pay gaps, reporting and narratives, and transparency around job roles, salaries, bonuses and progression.Blick Rothenberg’s three employee resource groups (ERG) are also critical aspects of the company’s culture. The Rainbow Network (LGBTQ+), BRave Network (Blick Rothenberg Acknowledges and Values Ethnicity, which is soon to rebrand to emBRace, to reinforce that everyone is welcome), and the Women’s Network, are all open to everyone, irrespective of identity. The networks are delivering a number of successes and bringing the company together by building communication and understanding.Mark is a lead sponsor of the Rainbow Network, a prospect which initially terrified him. “I was really worried about not saying or doing the right things until I had really helpful conversations with those in the network who said it was fine to be myself and ask questions. They encouraged me to come along and learn, which is what I wanted to do. And I’ve learnt so much.“The group is there to inform and share learning. It’s not necessarily to say what the firm’s stance or view on anything is or should be, but it’s a space for people to make their own mind up on different topics. I’d like to be involved with the other network groups too in due course so I can learn more about other groups and communities.”The Rainbow Network was named by its members to make it about more than terminology, and to be as open and inclusive as possible. The group was also instrumental in ensuring Blick Rothenberg’s people have the opportunity if they wish to share their gender pronouns after their names in their email signatures.“What also worked really well was when our Women’s Network had someone from the NHS attend to talk about menopause,” says Mark. “There was probably as many men as women, which was a good thing, especially if you compare this to two years ago when the same event would probably have attracted mainly women. We are all affected by the menopause, either directly or indirectly with someone we might know. I just found the session incredibly helpful. I might not understand it all at first, but at least it’s a start. Off the back of this talk, our Women’s Network put together some really helpful guidance to help BR become a more menopause supportive culture.“My view is that we have done some great things over the last two or three years around diversity and inclusion. We’ve got an intranet site called BRian and there have been so many incredible articles – none of them are vetted. There was a huge amount written and that was very insightful about Black Lives Matter, for example. There’s been a lot around Pride and other related themes.“This has been great, but now we are almost at a crossroads about what we do next. It’s not just about writing articles or education. It’s about making sure our policies, our processes – the way we do things are right too so that our people feel genuinely included and can bring themselves to work. For me, it’s critical that we are authentic. First, it’s really important to do something, even if it might feel a little like tokenism at times, but if you can be authentic, that’s so much better. Then once you’ve gone through the fundamentals the real challenge is then to really make a difference.”

DEI, wellbeing and performance

Post-pandemic, where we work has become a touchpoint for an organisation’s approach to its people. Whether it’s the wholesale return to office working seen in some big City companies, the four-day week or a hybrid approach, how people work is a key factor in performance and retention, diversity and inclusion.How is Blick Rothenberg balancing these pressures with its commercial needs and its One Company, People First focus? “I think this is a really, really difficult one,” says Mark Abbs. “I’ve worked from home on a Friday for the past 20 years. It’s the thing that kept me going because I worked so hard talking to people all week, but on Fridays I saw my kids go to school and I was able to do client work without distraction.“During lockdown, working from home for long periods I realised was not my preferred way to work. I’m lucky to have comfortable surroundings, people and family to talk to and have quite a strong independent character, but I was still finding it difficult. I am aware that it must be hard for people on their own perhaps.“Our ‘hybrid work from home’ approach encourages our people to come to the office two to three days on average as we see huge value in social interactions with our colleagues and clients. It has enabled us to attract and retain from a much wider talent pool. For instance, we have a GM team member who has returned to work after a five-year career break and is able to balance being a professional and a parent. We have another individual in the team who returned to work with us after they retired – they can perform a role they really enjoy while maintaining their preferred lifestyle choice in Devon.“We check into our desks with an app, so all of us know who’s in and who isn’t. We trust our people and prefer to empower them to make the right decisions when deciding where to work. We recognise that the firm also needs to provide the best working environment when we do attend the office for this to work the best.”To try to support effective team communication and opportunities to interact with colleagues more, each department has monthly team meetings, regular team days and socials tailored to team preferences. Like many employers, Blick Rothenberg is also now working on plans to redesign its office.“We set up a steering group with a cross-section of the firm and asked them if they could work with the designers to create a better environment to work, with more breakout and thinking areas, more collaborative and quiet zones, more plants, better lighting. We’ve now refurbished the fifth floor of the office and developing other areas to create workspaces that suit everyone’s needs.”This people-first approach to a tech-enabled future is core to Blick Rothenberg. Treating its people as thoughtfully as it does its clients is what makes it special. “Our service is genuinely personal – we do have lots of the latest tech, but it’s very much people first.”
This article is included in the  Autumn issue of Think Global People magazine (5831k) .

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